Wise Words in “Amoris Laetitia”: Part 3

There is much wisdom to be found in Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”), but at over 200 pages long it’s not always easy to pick out the wise words from all the prose. This project sifts through the wisdom Pope Francis has provided for us in this document. Each part of this project contains quotes (in italic font) from Amoris Laetitia that I believe contain wise words. Each quote is accompanied by a few of my own words (in normal font) to shed light on that wisdom.

I encourage everyone to read Amoris Laetitia for themselves. You can download a free copy from the Vatican website. For those that haven’t read it, this list of quotes can serve as an index to skip to just the most important parts of the document. For those that have already read it, my commentary accompanying each quote can supplement or reinforce what you read before.

Headings indicate the main section or chapter in Amoris Laetitia that a list of quotes comes from. Quotes are numbered according to the paragraph they come from in Amoris Laetitia. If multiple quotes come from the same paragraph, I add a dash and a number for clarification (e.g. 5-1, 5-2). Some paragraphs are skipped because they summarize other parts of the document or feature more common knowledge most people will already know.

Chapter 1: The Light of the Word

27 Christ proposed as the distinctive sign of his disciples the law of love and the gift of self for others (cf. Mt 22:39; Jn 13:34).

I like to say this more boldly: true love is sacrifice. In the media we see many false forms of love, especially infatuation and romantic feelings. These are part of love but not the most important. Infatuation and romantic feelings come and go in a relationship. Any relationship based solely on feelings will not last. Conversely, a relationship based on sacrifice endures. This love is not limited to dating and marriage but should be present to some extent in all relationships. The world would be a better place if more people understood this and strove to live by it. Thankfully, there are a lot of good people out there that sacrifice for others, but there are many who never lift a finger for others or do so very sparingly.

28 There is a closeness that is conscious and not simply biological.

As humans we have both a spiritual side and a physical side, but the spiritual side is hard to sense because it is invisible to our physical senses. We do have a spiritual sense though, which is love. The deep love between mother and child is so great that many times the mother and child are completely at peace with each other. In these moments they have no need for words. It is a spiritual connection more than a physical one. This is also why connecting with God requires silence more than anything else. We cannot receive peace and guidance from God through prayer in the presence of noise and chaos. We must retreat from the world, whether that means praying in a quiet room or making a trip to some remote place. Refer to my commentary on 12-2 in Part 1 [LINK] for more on the silence of love.

Chapter 2: The Experiences and Challenges of Families

32 It is…evident that “the principal tendencies in anthropological-cultural changes” are leading “individuals, in personal and family life, to receive less and less support from social structures than in the past”.

These days, parents have to work so much they don’t have much time to spend with their children. They might also have to move far away for work, so they have a harder time getting help from their their parents or grandparents. This is one of the problems of the day that the Church needs to provide direction for. Our culture needs to transform in a way that the good behavior of parents serving their children is valued and promoted by every person and society as a whole. In addition to the Church, government and charities can also work towards this goal.

It’s important to realize that every period in history has good things and bad things. As bad as it is for families these days, there are other good things to be happy about. For example, a really good thing now is the acceptance of homeschooling. Whether by choice or out of necessity the option to homeschool allows parents to guarantee their children will be raised in a religious environment. The key challenge of every generation is maintaining the areas we have made positive change in while replacing or transforming the areas with negative change.

33 “The tensions created by an overly individualistic culture, caught up with possessions and pleasures, leads to intolerance and hostility in families”.

A few years back I started noticing a lot of problems in society all went back to the family. When a child grows up in a broken family, it greatly affects the decisions they will later make in life. When that takes hold on a grand scale over several generations, which is what’s currently happening in the West, it causes massive damage to society and even to the nation. If this problem is not addressed, the United States will collapse. There is no question. It might take a while, but it will happen eventually if we cannot turn things around.

So many children these days witness the suffering of another and make a crude remark like, “sucks to be you”. In many cases their behavior has devolved to that of an animal. They act on instinct and believe in survival of the fittest. This is not progress but regression. These children then grow up to create broken families which leads to more broken families. This cycle will not be broken until we can evangelize these people on the way of love. The way of love is the way of Jesus. The Catholic faith is emulating Jesus’ life.

One of the key parts of the Catholic faith is the Golden Rule: “treat others as you would want others to treat yourself”. Living by this rule forces you to imagine what it would be like in another person’s shoes which leads to understanding of others and ultimately selflessness. Without religion, many people don’t really have that driving goal to treat others well. There’s some direction from education and our laws, since these have their foundation in the Christian faith of our forefathers, but they are clearly not enough. People must believe in a religion of love for real change to happen.

34-1 [The family] can come to be seen as a way station, helpful when convenient, or a setting in which rights can be asserted while relationships are left to the changing winds of personal desire and circumstances.

So many times these days I see a family that rarely spends any time together. Each member is doing their own thing, barely helping each other. I don’t think parents ever set out to create a disconnected family. It’s something that just happens. Once everyone has gotten used to having their way, it’s very hard to get them to change. I think the key to change is starting small.

The parents, of course, have to come together and agree that the family needs to spend more time together. Then they can start a new practice like eating one meal together as a family each day. The children will definitely protest, but the parents must be persistent until the habit is formed. With one positive change implemented, the next can be started. A few years later the family may look totally different with everyone much closer to each other. Change is not easy, especially over the long run, but the increase in love and happiness within the family more than makes up for it.

34-2 The ideal of marriage, marked by a commitment to exclusivity and stability, is swept aside whenever it proves inconvenient or tiresome.

This is what happens when a married couple doesn’t have true love. True love is more than just the feeling of love. It’s the choice to be with someone through thick and thin for life. In the Catholic wedding vows, the Church calls on the bride and groom to accept that sacrifice: “I promise to be faithful to [you] in good times and in bad…all the days of [my] life.” See my commentary on 27 above for more information.

36 Nor have we always provided solid guidance to young married couples, understanding their timetables, their way of thinking and their concrete concerns.

It’s good that Pope Francis admits mistakes by the Church, mainly not supporting and guiding young people towards good, strong marriages. This was a huge problem in the past. I regularly see stories of Catholic couples who went into marriage with impossible expectations because they never received instruction on what marriage is supposed to be. It’s no surprise that many of them ended up divorcing a few decades later when the marriage became difficult.

These days most parishes at least require couples discerning marriage to do marriage preparation founded on Church teaching. This is an improvement, but waiting until couples are a few months from their wedding date is too late to make a real difference. Instead, much critical marriage teaching should be taught during the teenage years. Then marriage preparation would be a reinforcement of what the couple already knows plus a few discussions on more mature topics that would be inappropriate outside the engagement period.

Of course, we wouldn’t want to influence young people away from vocations of consecrated life and the priesthood, so the teaching during teenage years would need to cover all vocations. After all, every vocation is in decline these days, even marriage. Many parishes already have year long Confirmation programs, so why not a year long vocation program? The Church could recommend parents enroll their teenagers in this program in preparation for their futures. For engaged couples that didn’t take the program, the recommendation would be to take an adult version of the program the first year after marriage.

Support before marriage is only half of the equation though. Newly married couples also need support. Most parishes do have family activities, but they tend to be more about socializing than support. Newlyweds have to do a lot of the leg work finding experienced couples that are willing to support them through trials. It would be better if there was a more concerted effort to support newlyweds at the parish level. Some parishes already do well, but in others couples are only given a little marriage preparation and then left on their own. This would be a great opportunity for more experienced couples to volunteer to help new couples build the skills they need for successful marriages.

37 We also find it hard to make room for the consciences of the faithful, who very often respond as best they can to the Gospel amid their limitations, and are capable of carrying out their own discernment in complex situations.

This statement is potentially confusing. By saying people can form their consciences on their own, it appears Pope Francis is saying right and wrong is solely based on what their conscience tells them. This is not the case. He is actually saying that people can have many logical explanations for their sinful actions. They may be wrong in God’s eyes, but they make sense to the individual. Rather than throwing out that logic entirely, the Church should work with the individual to explain which parts of their logic are correct and which are incorrect. For anything that is incorrect, the Church can then provide the next small step towards holiness. Many small steps over time lead to many miles and eventually, complete transformation into the image of God.

Strong statements meant to scare people into returning to the truth do not work. People need patient, gentle correction to put them back on course. Imagine a close friend was divorced and remarried without an annulment. You wouldn’t try to scare them with strong words like, “You’re going to hell if you don’t change your ways!”. Instead, you would try to understand why they made that decision, explain how their life doesn’t fit Church teaching, and give suggestions for improvement. All this would be done with patience. Rushing just frustrates people. Without patience, you only push them further away, possibly never to come back again. This is what faces the whole Church, both clergy and lay people.

38-1 Nowadays we are grateful too for the witness of marriages that have not only proved lasting, but also fruitful and loving.

Continuing my commentary for 36 above, those entering into marriage can easily be discouraged by the early trials. The critical time when the initial romance wears off sets the tone for the rest of the marriage. If the newly married have the support of couples whose marriages have stood the test of time, they will have a much higher chance of success. Experienced couples have wisdom and knowledge about how to make a marriage work. They can make a huge difference in the success of newer marriages. This is something I hope the Church leadership will call for more in parishes.

38-2 Yet we have often been on the defensive, wasting pastoral energy on denouncing a decadent world without being proactive in proposing ways of finding true happiness.

All Catholics are guilty of this. We see the ideal and then see how far away others are from that ideal. We can develop a habit of criticizing others or only talking about the bad. It’s true that Catholics are called to admonish the sinner, but we are also called to feed the sick and clothe the naked. Most times, admonishment should be between family and close friends, not strangers. Even then it shouldn’t be the only thing you do with friends and family. People follow positive people. If we are always negative, we can never lead anyone to God.

Having said this, the only way to improve ourselves is to identify problems, find solutions, and implement the solutions. Jesus said he came not for the righteous but for the sinners (Lk 5:32). The righteous were already doing good. It was the sinners that needed help. They cannot be helped without ignoring their sins. All this is to say we need to be positive and hopeful in our admonishment. In any correction, focus on the end result of peace, happiness, joy, and true love. When people can see the result, they are more than willing to make the necessary yet painful sacrifices.

Don’t say, “You better not do that or God will punish you.” Instead say, “I’m not so sure that’s a good idea. I think you’ll be happier if you do this instead.” In some cases you might take things a step further with, “I’d love to help you with this. Just let me know.” You are taking on a sacrifice to help them, but sometimes knowing someone is there for them is just what they need to take the first step.

Read the other parts:

May the Lord guide you on your faith journey,
Jared

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My Favorite Saints

Throughout history the lives of saints have became great examples of holiness for us. Since every person is unique, every saint has their own unique personality, traits, successes, and struggles. Because of this, every person has saints they will identify with more than others. The beauty of asking the saints to pray for us is that they can pray even when we cannot, whether it be during sleep, because we forgot, when we’re too busy, or any other reason. A few years back, I did some research and got a list of saints that could understand my struggles and know best what I need from God. Now I ask them most days to pray for me. Below are my favorite saints and the reasons I picked them.

Mary, Mother of God

  • Purity/Holiness: Most Catholics pray to Mary so this shouldn’t be surprising. Next to Jesus, she is the only human without sin. I really look up to Mary’s purity. While I am doing fairly well fighting sin these days, that wasn’t always the case. I used to love sins like obsessively playing video games and staying up late every night. Mary’s example inspires me to love goodness and hate sin.
  • Obedience: Mary had the huge responsibility to raise Jesus, doing her part to follow God’s plan. While God’s plan for my life is not as important, he still does have a plan. I need to obediently follow his plan just as Mary did.
  • Suffering: When Jesus suffered on the cross, Mary also suffered. Like Jesus, she had no guilt and could have gone straight to heaven but instead chose to follow her Son and die. Mary has an intimate knowledge of suffering and death, so she understands what I’m going through whenever I have to suffer.
  • Closeness to God: Mary was with Jesus at both the beginning and end of his life, so there is a deep connection between them. She is much closer to Jesus than I am. In praying to Mary, Jesus’ own mother is praying for me. Our Queen-Mother wants to pray for us and make requests of the King, if only we will ask.

St. Joseph

  • Purity/Holiness: St. Joseph wasn’t perfect and without sin like Mary but still led a very good life. Because I am a man, I can relate to him more than Mary. Whenever I am not sure how to be a holy man, I can ask him to pray for me.
  • Obedience: Like Mary, St. Joseph had a particular strength in obedience to God’s will. When God told him (through the angel) to continue with his marriage to Mary despite her pregnancy, Joseph obeyed. That required a lot of trust in God. Joseph had first hand experience with obedience and trusting in God, so his prayers can help me to obey and be able to trust God.
  • Perfect Husband: While Jesus is the perfect man, he did not marry. Our example of the perfect husband is thus St. Joseph. He showed how a man should treat a woman, not as property or an object but as priceless child of God. He showed how a man should raise children, especially education in the faith. I am not married and don’t have children, but I want to always show the utmost respect towards women and always be a good example towards the children I encounter. If I find myself called to marriage in the future, St. Joseph will be even more important.
  • Chastity: Even though Mary and St. Joseph were married, they lived in continence. They dedicated their lives to Jesus by practicing abstinence so that no other children would distract them from doing their best for Jesus. As a single man, I have to deal with the normal attractions all men deal with, but I also have to practice abstinence to remain chaste. It is good to have St. Joseph praying for me when I have temptations.

St. Aloysius Gonzaga

  • Suffering: St. Aloysius suffered a lot during his life with kidney disease, skin disease, headaches, and insomnia. He also had to suffer with the plague that eventually took his life. Despite his sufferings, he always did his best. While my sufferings are probably not as bad as St. Aloysius’ sufferings, I do suffer a little most days. Just like him, I have to do the best I can even when I feel bad.
  • Purity/Holiness: St. Aloysius’s had the gift of purity of heart. There was a certain innocence in him from a young age. No doubt the suffering he endured strengthened the virtue of purity within him even more. Though I did sin as a child, I noticed a certain innocence in myself at a young age, finding it easier to follow the rules than other boys. In addition, I have learned my suffering is a way to grow in holiness.
  • Service: St. Aloysius was constantly pushed and pulled between what his family wanted and what his superiors in the order wanted, but he always found a way to serve wherever he was. Many days, I feel pushed and pulled by the world around me and my health but do my best to fit service in whenever I am able.
  • Asceticism: At a young age, St. Aloysius chose the ascetic lifestyle (living simply). Living a simple life is one of my big ideals. Things may change if I am called to marriage, but as long as I am single, I will doing my best to keep my focus on God and not on material things.

St. Therese de Lisieux

  • Suffering: St. Therese suffered at her birth, at her death, and much in between. She was born with enteritis and died from tuberculosis. She suffered anxiety from being bullied at school and depression over her mother’s early death. I suffer with anxiety and digestive problems, two things this saint also dealt with. My sufferings are not as great as hers, which makes her an inspiration and good saint to ask prayers from.
  • Humility: St. Therese was one of the most humble people you could meet. She never took credit for anything she did, always pointing people back to God. I am pretty good at being humble towards people, but sometimes I get into a bad habit of thinking I know more than others. This is a side effect of studying the faith and becoming holier, but I need help fighting this pride.
  • Charity: St. Therese loved others so much, she sought out the people that treated her the worst and loved them even more no matter how they treated her. Like St. Therese I have a giving heart. I am most happy when I am giving to others. It’s something I discovered early in college but never acted on for many years. I ask St. Therese to pray that I stay on the holy path of giving to others. If I can maintain this, I will always be happy.

St. Margaret of Cortona

  • Transformation: In St. Margaret I see a great transformation between sinner and saint. At a young age, she got involved with a lot of men for attention and gifts and soon became a noble’s mistress. After finding the noble murdered she was so shocked, she gave up her evil life and eventually built a new life serving the poor and sick. My life doesn’t have the extreme evil and good of St. Margaret’s, but I did go through my own transformation. One day I felt the call of the Holy Spirit to be a holy man and become a saint. My life now compared to 15 years ago is totally different, a complete transformation.
  • Service: St. Margaret built a hospital for the poor and sick and served for decades. I probably won’t do anything as great as this saint but definitely want to do my best to live a life of service to God and others. There have been several times I got out of the habit of service. I need help from St. Margaret’s prayers to always be serving.
  • Penance: St. Margaret felt so bad about her actions, after her transformation she constantly sought to do penance, many times in extreme ways. My past sinful life wasn’t as bad as hers, but I still feel bad about how I acted in many parts of my life. Now in my prayer and writing, I work to lead others away from sin and to holiness.

St. Thomas Aquinas

  • Study of the faith: St. Thomas had a very sharp mind. He understood complex things easily and also knew how to explain them in simple ways that anyone could understand. This is what I seek to do with my writing. I am always hoping that something I write will be just the thing someone needs to understand the faith and grow.
  • Chastity: Early in his life, St. Thomas’ family tried to stop him from going into religious life by seducing him with a prostitute. The saint was steadfast in praying for chastity and God answered by making him immune to all temptations of the flesh the rest of his life. As a single man, I have to deal with these temptations most days. I have a lot of experience fighting them now, but I can always use more help.
  • Surrender to God: In his last years, St. Thomas experienced a powerful vision that changed his whole outlook on life. He suddenly lost all motivation to complete his life’s work, the Summa Theologica. Just like St. Thomas, God is in control and can always lead me in a completely different direction than I expected. I need to be ready to accept whatever God wills for my life.

St. Augustine of Hippo

  • Study of the faith: As a Doctor of the Church, St. Augustine wrote and preached many foundational elements of the Catholic faith. I won’t be doing something like that, but I do want to be motivated every day to keep studying and learning about the faith. The more I learn, the holier I will become myself, and the more I can teach others.
  • Chastity: St. Augustine really struggled with chastity as a young man. He had several mistresses and famously asked God “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.” I haven’t had as much trouble with this as St. Augustine, but I do have to fight temptations a few times each day.
  • Asceticism: St. Augustine came from a wealthy family. He lived a life of luxury and spent a lot of money. After his father’s death, he gained a large inheritance. However, he gave it all up to focus on serving God. I have never had much money, but I still deal with the little tug to be selfish every time I think about giving money. I need help ordering all my desires towards God.

God bless you,
Jared

2017 Examination of Ideals

It’s time for my 2017 Examination of Ideals. Like all years, 2017 had ups and downs. This year didn’t end up how I expected in both good and bad ways. I didn’t make much progress with my ideals, and in some areas I even went backwards. That’s the bad. The good is that I grew so much closer to God, I have a much better idea what he wants me to be doing. This means change is in order. I will be moving away from this set of ideals and replacing it with a new set that fits better with where God is calling me. See the end for more details.

For full descriptions of each ideal, refer to my Personal Catechism.

Prayer Ideals
1.1: I should pray to God as if He was my best friend. Grade: 5/5
I thought my relationship with God was strong last year, but it became even better this year. I have grown so much in the last year, I frequently take little leaps of faith trusting that God will make sure everything works out.

1.2: I should listen to God. Grade: 3/5
Other than a couple months, I didn’t do a good job listening to God. I did pretty well following his commandments and Church teachings, but I wish I had spent more time in silence with God. My trust in God has reached a point where I will follow him almost anywhere, so one of my big goals for 2018 is discerning a vocation. I don’t know if my health is even good enough for any vocation, but I am willing to try for God.

1.3: I should pray informally throughout the day. Grade: 3/5
I did really well at this around 4 or 5 months of the year, but the rest of the time I was poor at praying during the day.

1.4: I should pray formally once a day. Grade: 4/5
I was able to improve in this. Most of the year I prayed twice a day, morning and evening, but there were a couple months I skipped prayer entirely, a big mistake that caused me a lot of suffering.

1.41: My formal prayer should be productive. Grade: 3/5
Most of the year I did well at getting up on time to have room for prayer and stopping everything early enough to have time for prayer before bed. There were 3 or 4 months I was not doing this though.

1.42: I should include the Bible in my formal prayer. Grade: 5/5
I was able to maintain this practice again in 2017, so another perfect score.

1.5: I should pray the Rosary once a day during Lent and once a week during the rest of the year. Grade: 3/5
I got better at going to bed on time, so I did better at praying the Rosary. However, there were still a couple months I didn’t pray at all plus a few more months I had to say a shortened Rosary to get to bed on time. I know I can improve.

1.6: I should spend time each week with the Blessed Sacrament during Lent. Grade: 0/5
I again didn’t start this ideal, but it might be possible this year. My health is doing better most days of the week. However, I am not interested in making a new commitment while I am still discerning. Once I know better what God is calling me to, I will be able to decide how and when to add this ideal.

1.7: I should go to confession once a month. Grade: 1/5
I wasn’t able to add this ideal to my life, only going during the normal Advent and Easter seasons. My health just wasn’t good enough last year for an increase. My health is doing a little better now though, so I might finally be able to do this.

Study of the Faith Ideals
2.1: I should recite the common prayers, the Church prayers, and the Rosary prayers from memory once a day. Grade: 4/5
Other than a couple months, I did this every day in 2017.

2.2: Once a day I should read a Catholic article. Grade: 3/5
I moved away from reading a Catholic article this year. It had started to feel like a chore. I replaced it with working on an indulgence each day. I found it a lot more meaningful to help souls in purgatory. I scored myself a 3 though because I did a lot of reading anyways for my writing this year. It may not have been daily, but I definitely read a lot this year.

2.3: I should read about the feasts on feast days. Grade: 0/5
This is another ideal that felt like a chore, so I don’t know if I will be following it. However, there are some indulgences for special days of the year that I might try to put on my calendar. It’s not the same thing but similar.

2.4: I should read a few chapters of a Catholic book each week. Grade: 3/5
Like last year, I did a lot of reading during Lent, but not much outside of that. I wasted a lot of time during the summer. In the fall, I chose to focus more on prayer to get my relationship with God back to where it should be.

Teaching of Others Ideals
3.1: I should teach through my words. Grade: 3/5
At the beginning of the year, I had a big goal of writing an article each week, but I got burned out by the end of Lent. I returned to writing in the fall, so I somewhat salvaged things. Overall, it was an improvement. I have some exciting things to write this year, but they probably won’t be finished until the second half of the year. I still want to do stuff in person one day, but my health is not there yet.

3.2: I should teach through my actions. Grade: 4/5
I feel I became even holier in 2017 than I was in 2016. I became closer to God than ever before and his perfection rubbed off on me a little. I still have sins and virtues to work on, but I am very happy how I ended up.

3.3: I should teach friends and family. Grade: 2/5
I have a hard time with this one because I mostly only talk to my parents. Them being my elders makes it hard for me to justify teaching them very often. There were a few times, but it didn’t happen very often. I don’t have any friends these days, so I didn’t have anyone else to teach.

3.4: I should teach acquaintances and strangers. Grade: 1/5
My health is still in the way from real progress in this one. I did a lot of work writing online, but I’m sure I could make a bigger impact in person. My health is doing well enough to at least try some things in person if God calls me to do that, but that won’t be until after several months of discernment.

3.5: Whenever someone asks what I did over the weekend, I should always mention attending Mass. Grade: 0/5
This used to happen a lot when I went to the bank, but I rarely go now because of direct deposit. I don’t remember ever being asked what I did over the weekend. I am keeping it at a 0 because I probably wouldn’t remember to mention mass even if I was asked.

3.6: It is sometimes okay to be silent. Grade: 5/5
Silence is always easy for me as an introvert, so I got another perfect score.

Service Ideals
4.1: I should address the greatest need with my donations. Grade: 0/5
I wasn’t able to donate in 2017 just like 2016, but this year will be different for sure. I have enough money now. I am excited to finally be able to contribute.

4.2: I should donate to charities that are in line with Catholic teaching. Grade: 5/5
I’m giving myself a 5 because I’m sure any donations I would have made would have gone to charities in line with Church teaching.

4.3: I should give a 10% tithe per month to the Church and other charities. Grade: 0/5
I didn’t donate anything this year, so it’s another 0 score.

4.4: I should serve at least 6 hours per week. Grade: 3/5
I was able to increase my prayer and writing in 2017, but I wasted several months during the summer. Also, I still didn’t get to do any service in person.

4.5: At least one week per year, I should participate in a special service opportunity that uses a lot more time. Grade: 0/5
Just as I predicted, I wasn’t able to do any special service this year. I am expecting that to be the case in 2018 as well because my goals don’t leave much time for anything else.

Work Ideals
5.1: I should always do a hard day’s work. Grade: 2/5
There were 3 or 4 months, I was not doing a good job going to bed on time and getting up on time. That meant I was rushing to get the same amount of work done in less time. I was also frequently tired at work, reducing my productivity. I can do a lot better in 2018 and expect to.

5.2: I should not become obsessive about work. Grade: 5/5
A big help this year is that my work was steady. I was never surprised by a giant project like last year. I was able to stop work on time and relax pretty well most days.

5.3: I should take breaks during work. Grade: 4/5
I did well at taking breaks most days, but they were sometimes delayed because I got up from bed too late.

5.4: I should finish work before leisure. Grade: 3/5
I did worse this year due to impatience. While waiting for the computer to load, I frequently opened up a website to read an article. Then I’d see another article I wanted to read, and so on until I had wasted an hour. I got into a much better productive state by the end of the year, but I did worse than I should.

5.5: I should find happiness in my work. Grade: 4/5
I did well in this ideal, both with paid work and chores. With paid work, I actively worked on learning more about the things I do. With chores, I got into a habit of infusing prayer to make them all offerings to God.

Health Ideals
6.1: I should eat 3 meals a day. Grade: 3/5
I again delayed lunch many days, but this year it only lasted about 4 months. The rest of the time, I was pretty good at stopping for lunch on time.

6.2: I should eat one serving of fruits or vegetables with every meal. Grade: 2/5
Due to my stomach problems, I can’t eat as much as I used to. This means I usually don’t have enough room for a fruit or vegetable at each meal. Instead, my goal was to eat 2 fruits or vegetables over the whole day. I did pretty well getting it to 1 each day, but never had a good habit of 2 each day. I improved but I could do better.

6.3: I should get at least 8 hours of sleep every night. Grade: 3/5
I did well about 7 months of the year. The rest of the time I was staying up too late and losing sleep time. This is another area I improved but could have done better.

6.4: I should give myself enough leisure time. Grade: 3/5
I became sort of a workaholic the first 5 months of the year, but after that I did very well at making time for leisure and relaxation.

6.5: I should do 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week. Grade: 4/5
I did much better with exercise in 2017. Most of the year I was doing the right amount of exercise. There were a couple months I didn’t keep up with it though.

6.6: I should lift weights 3 times per week. Grade: 4/5
Due to my health, I found it easier to do several light workouts rather than just a few hard workouts. I increased my weightlifting to 5 times per week but only half as many exercises. I did this all but 2 months, so it is a good improvement.

6.7: I should see the doctor at least once a year. Grade: 5/5
As always I had to see the doctor for prescriptions, so I met this ideal by default.

6.8: I should see the dentist at least once a year. Grade: 5/5
I didn’t have the money to go to the dentist in 2017. I don’t think I will in 2018 either because my money is going to other areas of my health. I might be forced to one day if I get a cavity or broken tooth, but so far my teeth have done well with good brushing and flossing.

6.9: I should see the eye doctor at least once every 5 years. Grade: 5/5
I don’t have to see the eye doctor for a couple more years, so I made this ideal by default.

Leisure Ideals
7.1: I should schedule my sleep time. Grade: 2/5
I got into a good habit until Easter. Then I got out of the habit until November. It was not a good year for my sleep schedule, but I am doing better now and expect to continue.

7.2: I should turn off internet-connected devices by 10pm. Grade: 2/5
This ideal correlates with my sleep schedule. When I don’t turn things off on time, I will usually stay up too late. That happened about half the year in 2017. I improved but can do better.

7.3: I should install an internet filter on all internet-connected devices. Grade: 4/5
In 2017, I started using a company-supplied computer for most things. I didn’t want to tamper with it in any way, so I didn’t install an internet filter. I am not having any problems with looking at bad things on the internet, but setting a good example is always good. If I go back to a private computer, I will make sure to use one.

7.4: I should avoid immoral movies or TV shows. Grade: 5/5
I did perfect with this ideal again. I don’t have trouble with this, so I expect to continue being perfect in this every year.

7.5: It’s okay to waste some leisure time. Grade: 3/5
I did a little worse in this ideal because the first 5 months of the year, I was really strict about my prayer and writing every evening. I was trying to do too much. It was like working 12 hour days. I did much better in the summer and found a nice balance by October.

Money Ideals
8.1: I should spend no more than $100 per month on leisure. Grade: 4/5
A few months I spent more than this, but most of the year I spent nothing on leisure. It averages  out to less than $100, but I need to be more consistent.

8.2: I should save at least $100 per month for retirement. Grade: 0/5
I would have enough money in 2018 for this, but my focus is on charitable donations. I want to make up for the years I didn’t donate anything, so I’m putting off retirement again.

8.3: I should save at least $100 per month for emergencies. Grade: 3/5
I didn’t really save for emergencies, but I did pool extra money to pay for more health treatment in 2018. My health isn’t extremely urgent, but it does limit my activities, so I kind of consider it an emergency.

8.4: I should donate any money earned over $30,000 per year to charity. Grade: 5/5
My income was again less than $30,000, so I didn’t have to worry about this ideal.

Year 2018 Statistics

Chapter Name Lowest Grade Highest Grade Average Grade
Prayer Ideals Ideal 1.6 (0/5) Ideal 1.1 & 1.42 (5/5) 3.0/5
Study of the Faith Ideals Ideal 2.3 (0/5) Ideal 2.1 (4/5) 2.5/5
Teaching of Others Ideals Ideal 3.5 (0/5) Ideal 3.6 (5/5) 2.5/5
Service Ideals Ideal 4.1, 4.3 & 4.5 (0/5) Ideal 4.2 (5/5) 1.6/5
Work Ideals Ideal 5.1 (2/5) Ideal 5.2 (0/5) 3.6/5
Health Ideals Ideal 6.2 (2/5) Ideal 6.7, 6.8 & 6.9 (5/5) 3.8/5
Leisure Ideals Ideal 7.1 & 7.2 (2/5) Ideal 7.4 (5/5) 3.2/5
Money Ideals Ideal 8.2 (0/5) Ideal 8.4 (5/5) 3.0/5
Overall Worst: Service Ideals (1.6/5) Best: Health Ideals (3.8/5) 2.9/5

All Time Records
Worst Chapter: Service (1.4/5) in year 2016
Best Chapter: Tie between Work in year 2016 and Health in 2017 (both 3.8/5)
Worst Overall Average: 2.76/5 in year 2016
Best Overall Average: 2.98/5 in year 2015

How I Graded

I did better than I expected with my ideals in 2017. There were some months I wasn’t working on them at all, but when I look at the whole year, I actually did better. My overall score this year (2.9/5) ended up being just below my best overall score (2.98/5) set in 2015. I am happy I did so well considering the big changes that happened this year. Prayer is still doing well this year. Service remained my worst ideals because I am still unable to serve out of the house. Teaching of Others also suffered for the same reason. I got a little worse in Work ideals because of laziness. At least my Health ideals improved. Despite doing better in 2017 compared to 2016, I am moving away from these ideals.

When I originally wrote these ideals, a lot of them were not really mine. They were things I had heard or read about from others as things good Catholics do. I thought if I wanted to be a good Catholic, I needed to do these things. Some of them were my own ideas but probably half of them were “best practices” I wanted to follow. Now with more experience in the faith, I know the most important thing is my relationship with God. To this end, I am creating new ideals tied completely to this one aspect of my life.

There is a lot of work to do so it’s not going to be soon, but it’s going to be a lot better for me in the end. I also think these ideals may help others, so I will be writing this for anyone, not just myself. I expect to continue my yearly examinations, but all future ones will all be based on the new list of ideals.

The Easy Yoke

I’ve written before how tough times can either make a person better and closer to God or worse and further from God. This is the decision I faced when my health went downhill. As I developed social anxiety, digestive problems, and several other health problems, I suffered more and more. My health was not looking good. Without seeing anything in the world able to help me, I made the decision to become better and focused on God.

First was the complaining:

“God, you have to help me with this. I need healing. I can’t do anything with these health problems.”

After a few years came acceptance:

“God, I don’t like my suffering, but you’re not going to heal me. My health is so bad I could die at any moment. I will follow your will and prepare myself for heaven.”

Another few years I reached gratitude:

“My God, thank you for the blessing of being able to offer my suffering as a gift for Jesus on the cross. I still don’t like suffering, but I thank you for giving me a use for it.”

Most recently I found joy:

“Glory to you, O Lord, for allowing me to do penance for the world. My God, whether you will that I suffer or not, I welcome your plan with all my heart!

As I went through these stages, I became closer to God. The big breakthrough was when I saw for the first time all the ways God loved me. God was expressing his love to me in unique ways just for me and no one else. While God had always loved me, it was only when I recognized his love that I was able to love him back and form a real relationship. I no longer cared much what others thought of me. I didn’t need anyone else’s love to be happy. God’s love for me was enough. With that the anxiety started to dissipate.

I still deal with social anxiety every time I’m around strangers. My body automatically becomes stressed even when my mind is calm and clear of worry, but most times, prayer, putting my trust in God, and offering my suffering dissipates the anxiety after a few minutes. Sometimes my anxiety does get out of control, but it’s pretty rare. I am still working on introducing myself to more stressful situations as well. It’s not over with but progress is being made. I will probably always have to deal with anxiety at the beginning of social situations, a temporary suffering before my body relaxes and I can have a good time.

Years of chronic anxiety and stress has caused permanent damage to my body though. This means my digestive problems, chronic injuries, muscle weakness, trouble sleeping, and more will not be going away, no matter how much better my anxiety gets. My suffering from these problems will continue, though I can work on treating each of them individually for some improvements. There is always the chance I could be completely cured, but I don’t expect that at this point.

My suffering rarely bothers me now. Some days I do feel pretty bad physically, but those days have their own blessing, patiently offering up my suffering for Jesus and the world. Despite the difficulty of getting through those days, this is usually when I am most close to God. As Jesus said in the Bible, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Mt 11:30). It’s not that my suffering is gone, but my closeness to God makes me so happy, positive, and joyful, suffering just doesn’t bother me anymore. In short, I will continue to work on treating the health problems and hope for an end to my suffering, but with God and his love, I can endure any suffering, put it to good use, and even be joyful about it.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared

Movie Thoughts: Miracle of Saint Thérèse

Miracle of Saint Thérèse is a 1959 Franch docudrama film directed by Andre Haquet and starring France Descaut in the title role. It is 92 minutes long (1 hour, 32 minutes). I had some free time during Thanksgiving and decided to watch one of the movies on formed.org, the new Catholic multimedia site. St. Thérèse is one of my favorite saints, so I was excited to see if the movie had any more details about her life.

Miracle of Saint Thérèse is pretty old-fashioned, all black and white with low sound quality. I think it is dubbed from the original French into English as well. Several times the words don’t match up with the actor’s mouths. Also, it is pretty obvious when they mute the sound to add the dubbing. In many scenes there are large periods of complete silence, very different from modern movies. I think the film would have been better with English subtitles rather than dubbed English voices. I prefer a more modern film, but I have patience. It didn’t really bother me.

In Miracle of Saint Thérèse, a narrator sets the tone and gives some background before major events like a documentary. Then the drama takes over with characters acting out the parts. There is more narration in the first half, which speeds through the years quickly, than the second half, which really focuses on the last few years of her life.

I enjoyed the detail in the second half. It was really interesting to see how the Carmelites live. There’s probably been some changes since then, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s very similar today. They have a strict rule to follow. It was especially hard for the fragile St. Thérèse, but no matter how much she suffered, she didn’t give up. In fact, she usually did even more than her sisters in spite of her weakness.

I wish Miracle of Saint Thérèse covered more of her early life. I read her biography on Wikipedia a while back and found the movie covered very little of her childhood. For example, Thérèse was picked on and bullied at school. The movie didn’t show any of her schooling. Also, she had a lot of problems with anxiety after her mother’s death, which the movie depicted as some unexplained illness. The point of the movie, I’m sure, was to help viewers grow in the faith, so it makes sense to focus on the later events of her life. These later years have the most teaching value.

Overall, I had a good time with Miracle of Saint Thérèse. It wasn’t perfect. I would prefer a more recent movie. For foreign films, I always like subtitles more than dubbed voiceover. The movie skipped a lot of St. Thérèse’s early life. These are all very minor though. It was worth the time I spent with it and gave me new appreciation for the saint. It reminded me again why she is one of my favorite saints. Her life helps me stay motivated to get things done even with all the little health problems I have to suffer through.

Book Thoughts: God’s Promises for You: Scripture Selections from Max Lucado

God’s Promises for You: Scripture Selections from Max Lucado is a 2005 book by Christian author Max Lucado. It was published by Hallmark Cards, Inc. My mother let me borrow this book during Lent one year, but I forgot about it. For probably a year, it just collected dust in my bookshelf. This year I decided to treat Advent as a mini-Lent, full of prayer rather than entertainment. That gave me time to finally read this book.

God’s Promises for You has 204 pages split into 10 sections, each with their own theme. Each section has 6-10 promises. The left side of the page has 3-4 Scriptures from the Bible. The right side has a short note by the author. The layout is perfect for a quick daily read in the morning. The notes are all taken from previous books Max Lucado has written, so this book can be seen as a launching point to many of his other books. It includes an Acknowledgements page at the end to help with this.

Max Lucado has some good points in God’s Promises for You. I already know most of it, but there are some things I hadn’t thought about before. The real value in this book for me is the list of Bible passages for each promise. I will be using it as a reference for future study and writing. I grew a little spiritually after reading this book and expect more growth with the future studies it will enable. Any book that helps with my spiritual growth is a good book in my opinion.

I think God’s Promises for You would be a good starter for anyone that has trouble reading the Bible on its own. The Scripture passages are collected under clear themes and each topic has some nice words to explain their significance. It’s a simple book though. Those that are well advanced in their faith may not get a lot out of it. Something else to think about is that this is a Christian book, not Catholic, but the notes are general enough the reader can interpret it in a way that fits their faith whether it is Catholicism or some other Christian faith.

For example, in one part the author wrote about asking for forgiveness from God and then moving on. Since he didn’t go into detail on what asking for forgiveness entails it can fit the Catholic faith. Catholics can interpret that to mean: say a simple act of contrition for venial sin, go to confession for mortal sin. Those of another Christian faith can interpret this note to mean: say a simple prayer asking for Jesus’ mercy and forgiveness. The text is general enough to fit both interpretations. In this way Max Lucado wrote a book that can apply to a lot of people. The downside is that he is unable to go into any real depth. So it’s a good starter, but hopefully leads the reader to further study.

Wise Words in “Amoris Laetitia”: Part 2

There is much wisdom to be found in Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”), but at over 200 pages long it’s not always easy to pick out the wise words from all the prose. This project sifts through the wisdom Pope Francis has provided for us in this document. Each part of this project contains quotes (in italic font) from Amoris Laetitia that I believe contain wise words. Each quote is accompanied by a few of my own words (in normal font) to shed light on that wisdom.

I encourage everyone to read Amoris Laetitia for themselves. You can download a free copy from the Vatican website. For those that haven’t read it, this list of quotes can serve as an index to skip to just the most important parts of the document. For those that have already read it, my commentary accompanying each quote can supplement or reinforce what you read before.

Headings indicate the main section or chapter in Amoris Laetitia that a list of quotes comes from. Quotes are numbered according to the paragraph they come from in Amoris Laetitia. If multiple quotes come from the same paragraph, I add a dash and a number for clarification (e.g. 5-1, 5-2). Some paragraphs are skipped because they summarize other parts of the document or feature more common knowledge most people will already know.

Chapter 1: The Light of the Word

13 The very word “to be joined” or “to cleave”, in the original Hebrew, bespeaks a profound harmony, a closeness both physical and interior, to such an extent that the word is used to describe our union with God: “My soul clings to you” (Ps 63:8).

Just as the family on earth is a sign of the divine family in heaven, the union between husband and wife on earth is a sign of our future perfect union with God in heaven. On earth the greatest expression of this union is the sexual act. However, in heaven the perfect union between God and man (or woman) will be expressed in an even greater way. We can’t comprehend or understand this until we get to heaven. Indeed, marriage ends with our earthly death and in heaven all people will be “mystically married” to God as Ss. Teresa and John of the Cross experienced. God will say, “You are mine”, and we will respond, “I am yours.” Knowing this may help those that struggle with chastity to remain pure.

14 The presence of children is a sign of the continuity of the family throughout salvation history, from generation to generation.

A society without children is dying. Adults eventually age and die. If there are no children to replace them, that society eventually won’t exist. This is measured in our modern age by the fertility (or birth) rate. Several countries already have flat or negative fertility rates and the problem is spreading. In America, the fertility rate has been in decline for years. This problem arose with urbanization.

In the past most families lived on farms and were fairly self sufficient. Children could help with the labor and contribute to the family business. These days work is so specialized children can’t contribute to the parents’ work, so children are a huge cost until they become independent. In the past, the community helped with child raising, but now families have vastly different values. As an example, Catholic parents might not be comfortable with a Muslim family helping babysit.

A possible solution is for families to stick closer together. Instead of everyone moving out when they become adults, the extended family maintains a large house with space for multiple families. Sometimes there are lessons to be learned from the past, and this is one of them. Extended families living together was what everyone did for centuries. It is a proven way to survive. If a group of families share a home, each individual family will get a lot of help raising their children. Unfortunately, this is illegal in many parts of the country, with most cities only allowing two families on a lot. It’s possible in rural areas, but those areas tend to not have many jobs.

17 Parents have a serious responsibility for this work of education, as the Biblical sages often remind us (cf. Prov 3:11-12; 6:20-22; 13:1; 22:15; 23:13-14; 29:17).

One of the primary responsibilities of Catholic parents is spreading the faith to their children. Unfortunately, many parents forget or neglect this responsibility. Some parents assume Catholic school will do that for them. Catholic school is a good start, but it is only through reinforcement at home that the things they learn are remembered and practiced. For parents that must send their children to public school, it is even more important to teach them the faith at home.

18-1 “The Gospel goes on to remind us that children are not the property of a family, but have their own lives to lead.”

While some parents are too controlling, it’s interesting that, for the most part, the problem in the modern world is parents being too lax. Many parents give their underage children absolute freedom to make every decision. I’ve heard of parents letting their children decide to eat junk food for dinner and sometimes even decide which house or car to buy. There is nothing wrong with asking children for input on these decisions, but the parents should always make the final decision even if their children don’t like it. Parents know what is best in the long run while many times children will make choices only for short term benefit. Some exceptions can be made on special days like birthdays, but for the most part, parents should make all the major decisions.

I’ve read studies about how some parents want to be “friends” with their children rather than “parents”. They are not leading their children to success but suffering when the children find themselves lacking basic skills for surviving in the real world. Parents need to be proactive in teaching important values and skills as early as possible so their children are prepared for almost any obstacle they face.

18-2 “Jesus goes so far as to present [children] as teachers, on account of their simple trust and spontaneity towards others.”

One of the things we hear a lot in the Catholic faith is that we must become childlike to enter heaven. Because they haven’t had any bad experiences, children easily trust parents and siblings. On the other hand, every parent has had a few bad experiences with their spouse which leads to distrust. Jesus and our Pope asks you to always trust your spouse, even when there is a possibility of negative consequences. This doesn’t mean to blindly trust others though. There are many people in situations of abuse or other danger where trusting would be harmful. In most couples, the spouses are not in any danger though. They should work towards accepting the sacrifice of trusting their spouse.

19 The idyllic picture presented in Psalm 128 is not at odds with a bitter truth found throughout sacred Scripture, that is, the presence of pain, evil and violence that break up families and their communion of life and love.

While sin and its harmful effects are particularly devastating in the family, this statement can be applied more generally to all aspects of human life. As Catholics we see the ideal God teaches us in the Bible and the Catechism. Unfortunately, we sin and don’t live up to the ideal. Despite our failure, we are called to keep trying our entire lives to improve and grow. Over time this will lead us closer to God and closer to the ideal he wants for us. Most of us will never reach it in this life but some will become saints. We do our best and leave the rest to God.

21 Jesus knows the anxieties and tensions experienced by families and he weaves them into his parables…

When navigating family struggles it is sometimes easy to think that God doesn’t understand our suffering. The reality is that Jesus, Son of God, lived as a human, both witnessing and experiencing all the sufferings of human life including family struggles. God intimately knows all about what we’re going through. He also knows the way out of difficult situations in the family. When we find ourselves in these situations, we can always turn to God in prayer for guidance.

22 We can see that the word of God is not a series of abstract ideas but rather a source of comfort and companionship for every family that experiences difficulties or suffering.

Not only do we have God available to us in prayer (see 21 above), we also have the stories and teachings of the Bible to lead us. These are both infinite sources of wisdom our entire life. Those that have read the Bible for many years can attest to the fact that the Bible never gets old. No matter how many times you read it, you always learn something new. Prayer is the same. No matter how much we pray with God, we never somehow learn all there is. God constantly has more to teach us. Accept these blessings into your daily life and you will surely grow in holiness.

23 It is clear from the very first pages of the Bible that work is an essential part of human dignity…

One of the many problems we have these days is a lack of work. With new technology, a lot of work has become automated, putting lots of people out of work. The average IQ score is between 70 and 130, but I wouldn’t be surprised if most high tech jobs require around 90 or higher. That means a huge chunk of the population can never do those jobs. There needs to be work for them that doesn’t require high intelligence.

One possible solution is to look at the examples of self-sufficient living among the religious brothers and sisters. That kind of life involves more simple work perfectly suited to those people who, through no fault of their own, find themselves unable to obtain a living wage. St. John Bosco created the Salesian Congregation as a way to support abandoned boys. Many of them ended up working for the congregation. I’ve also read a few stories about homeless people who eventually got jobs working for the charitable organization that originally served them. These are great success stories, but much more needs to be done if all the discouraged workers are to get back into the workforce.

25 Sadly, these realities are present in many countries today, where the lack of employment opportunities takes its toll on the serenity of family life.

When people don’t have reliable work, it’s easy to worry about the future. They can’t relax. Their minds are in survival mode, focused on how to how to get through the next hour or day. It’s hard for parents to focus on their children with all these fears clouding their mind. Family life really suffers. Arguments break out easily that can cause lasting damage even after the period of hardship ends. Parents might be so busy working they are not be able to spend time with their children, possibly resulting in their children leaving the faith, lacking good values, or not knowing basic life skills.

Read the other parts:

May the Lord guide you on your faith journey,
Jared

Wise Words in “Amoris Laetitia”: Part 1

There is much wisdom to be found in Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”), but at over 200 pages long it’s not always easy to pick out the wise words from all the prose. This project sifts through the wisdom Pope Francis has provided for us in this document. Each part of this project contains quotes (in italic font) from Amoris Laetitia that I believe contain wise words. Each quote is accompanied by a few of my own words (in normal font) to shed light on that wisdom.

I encourage everyone to read Amoris Laetitia for themselves. You can download a free copy from the Vatican website. For those that haven’t read it, this list of quotes can serve as an index to skip to just the most important parts of the document. For those that have already read it, my commentary accompanying each quote can supplement or reinforce what you read before.

Headings indicate the main section or chapter in Amoris Laetitia that a list of quotes comes from. Quotes are numbered according to the paragraph they come from in Amoris Laetitia. If multiple quotes come from the same paragraph, I add a dash and a number for clarification (e.g. 5-1, 5-2). Some paragraphs are skipped because they summarize other parts of the document or feature more common knowledge most people will already know.

Introduction

1 For all the many signs of crisis in the institution of marriage, “the desire to marry and form a family remains vibrant, especially among young people…”

It can be easy to get discouraged and lose hope in marriage due to the many negative statistics we have about it. Divorce rates are skyrocketing. Many couples cohabitate instead of getting married. We see news about child abuse and domestic violence pretty much daily. However, despite all these bad things, the majority of people look up to marriage as a good ideal for happiness and joy. The fact that so many young people believe in this gives us hope for the future.

2-1 The complexity of the issues that arose revealed the need for continued open discussion of a number of doctrinal, moral, spiritual, and pastoral questions.

Many issues have arisen that threaten marriage, including the high divorce rate, remarriage after divorce, popular support for abortion, prevalent use of contraception, and the emergence of same-sex marriage. The Church has preached against all of these for years, and yet they have continued to grow in popularity. Therefore, the Church must find a whole new way to communicate the harm of these activities while gently leading people back to the truth. It has to be done right the first time. Otherwise people will just be pushed further away. As a result, the proper approach is going to take a long time to discover. The synod was just a start. Years of work are still ahead to fight these evils. It’s likely that these evils will always exist in some form, but much improvement is possible.

2-2 The debates carried on in the media, in certain publications and even among the Church’s ministers, range from an immoderate desire for total change without sufficient reflection or grounding, to an attitude that would solve everything by applying general rules or deriving undue conclusions from particular theological considerations.

This is a long way of saying we should avoid extremes, good advice for these times. One extreme is to just throw out past Church teaching and replace it with teaching that would be popular in the world. This would address the problem of the popular world ignoring the wisdom of the Church, but the unacceptable cost would be the Church abandoning the truth. This obviously cannot happen. The other extreme is mandating blanket rules for all people, no matter the situation. This also cannot happen since people are not robots or clones. They have different circumstances that affect what they should or should not do. As 2-1 states above, the problem is complex. The two extremes may be quick and easy but neither are acceptable.

3 Since ‘time is greater than space’, I would make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium.

This quote explains Pope Francis’ approach to making positive change in the world. The Church is not here to write laws for every miniscule detail of life. Instead, it simply gives people the main idea or guideline on how to live holy. Applying that broad guideline to an individual person is a matter of discernment, which might require the aid of a priest or spiritual director but is ultimately the responsibility of the individual believer.

Chapter 1: The Light of the Word

8 The Bible is full of families, births, love stories and family crises. This is true from its very first page, with the appearance of Adam and Eve’s family with all its burden of violence but also its enduring strength (cf. Gen 4) to its very last page, where we behold the wedding feast of the Bride and the Lamb (Rev 21:2, 9).

Many times people ask, “why are Catholics and the Church so focused on families?” The reason is clear. In the Bible every story has to do with family to some extent. The story of civilization is the story of family. It’s very important to think about family. When families are doing well, civilization is doing well. On the other hand, if families are struggling or failing, civilization will follow.

When addressing a problem, you always start with the source. We have many problems in the world, but many of them start with family troubles such as neglect and abuse. For example, look at minority neighborhoods. They have some of the highest poverty rates. How do we reduce that poverty? By improving families in those neighborhoods. If we can ensure all children have a stable household with two parents plus friends and relatives for support, both parents and children will be more successful, leading to future generations with less poverty.

9 [The father and mother] embody the primordial divine plan clearly spoken of by Christ himself: “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female?” (Mt 19:4).

Marriage is a divine plan of God. He created humans male and female to fulfill this plan. Everyone is naturally called to marriage. Some people do not get married due to circumstances beyond their control, such as disease or severe injury, but they are still called to marriage which may cause suffering. Other people receive a supernatural call by God to do something special with their lives (religious life). Without that supernatural calling, those people would also be called to marriage.

10 Does [“image of God” (Gen 1:27)] mean that sex is a property of God himself, or that God has a divine female companion, as some ancient religions held? Naturally, the answer is no.

Pope Francis corrects those that would take the Bible’s use of “image” literally. When the Bible says male and female were made in the image of God, it does not mean God is actually male and female. In fact, God is something greater. He cannot simply be pinned down to one sex. He contains all that it is to be human plus the infiniteness of his divine person. So all of the male traits like strength are in God plus all of the female traits like gentleness also exist in God plus infinitely more. God is everything in one being.

11 …the couple’s fruitful relationship becomes an image for understanding and describing the mystery of God himself, for in the Christian vision of the Trinity, God is contemplated as Father, Son and Spirit of love. The triune God is a communion of love, and the family is its living reflection.

Seeing the human family gives us a clue as to its Creator. In the human family, there are parents and children. In the divine family, there is a parent (the Father) and a child (the Son). In addition, the love between parents bears fruit in the form a child just as the love between the Father and Son bears fruit in the form of the Holy Spirit. Marriage and family are evidence for the existence of God and the three divine Persons.

12-1 …we see the man, who anxiously seeks “a helper fit for him” (vv. 18, 20), capable of alleviating the solitude which he feels amid the animals and the world around him.

Pope Francis explains the incompleteness of man and how he needs woman to complete him. As I wrote for 9 above, marriage is a natural calling. Everyone at a certain point longs for another. They just don’t want to be alone anymore. Some people are made complete by marrying the Church (priesthood) or marrying God (consecrated life). The rest are made complete by marrying another human, the opposite sex. Of course, our Pope is looking at the ideal of marriage here. Many people in real life do not get married due to impairment, illness, or other reasons.

12-2 …for where love is concerned, silence is always more eloquent than words.

This is a beautiful poetic statement about true love. While we speak in words, God has no need for it. Love is more powerful than words. I’m sure you can remember an experience where someone aided you before you even asked. In love a person can be so attuned to the other that they just know their needs and how to address them before a single word is spoken. Also think about how God speaks to us. It’s very rare that he speaks in audible words. Almost always it’s in the silence of our hearts. This is a hint at what heaven will be like. We will be so close to God and everyone else in heaven, we won’t even need words. This doesn’t mean heaven will be silent, but it will definitely be quieter than earth.

Read the other parts:

May the Lord guide you on your faith journey,
Jared

Avoiding Perfectionism

One of the pitfalls of Catholic living is perfectionism. At the personal level, the Catholic faith is all about striving for perfection in holiness to become closer to God. However, it is easy to get confused here and think we are called to perfectionism. Perfectionism is the misguided belief that we can be perfectly holy on earth. On the contrary, Catholics believe perfect holiness has its end in heaven, not earth. Therefore, we can improve on earth, perhaps to the point of sainthood, but not reach perfection. As holy as they were by the end of their lives, even the saints regularly committed sins (though probably all minor venial sins). Both perfectionism and striving for perfection involve the struggle to be perfect, but perfectionism is unhealthy and leads to disappointment while striving to be perfectly holy is healthy and leads to happiness.

The perfectionist expects perfection, maybe not immediately, but in some short timeframe. Then when they fall short of perfection, they get frustrated, angry, and stressed out. The reality is that all people on earth have committed sin and will continue to commit sin. Catholics strive for perfection in holiness and do make progress, but they know they will continue to make mistakes throughout their life. When failure hits them, they don’t get frustrated, they simply offer it to God and ask what they should do. It’s true that we believe in every moment we are capable of doing the right thing, but at the same time, we know that everyone eventually succumbs to temptation. This doesn’t give us a free pass but instead prevents failure from causing discouragement. We fail, learn from it the best we can, then continue striving for holiness.

Unfortunately, many Catholics believe living the faith means adopting perfectionism. Instead of becoming holier, better people, perfectionism leads to frustration and stress. Satan and his followers then latch on to fill the mind with thoughts of despair. Eventually, this can lead to giving up and abandoning the faith. Perfectionism can also lead to the sin of presumption, that we can somehow become holy enough to get to heaven without God. This tends to happen within people that are so successful they don’t see their own imperfections. Whether perfectionism causes an unhealthy frustration or the pride of presumption, it does not lead to God.

So perfectionism is harmful and can have disastrous effects. Instead, Catholics should simply strive for perfection (or holiness), do their best, and let God take care of the rest. In the long run, they will continue to make mistakes but slowly improve, slowly become holier, and eventually get to be with God.

The truth is that God knows all about our human struggles. His own Son lived as a human, so he knows how hard it is to be perfect. God knows we won’t be perfect on earth, so he’s not expecting it. At the same time, he knows we must be perfect to enter heaven. Anything that is lacking will have to be improved during the suffering of purgatory, so it’s to our own benefit to improve while still living on earth. Our efforts at perfection in holiness will lead to improvement, which will reduce our suffering in purgatory.

Furthermore, our struggles are pleasing to God, not because he wants us to suffer but because our continued determination in the face of failure is the biggest sign of our faith for him. We are choosing to suffer purely out of trust in God. He has told us what our reward will be for this faith, but we don’t have it yet, not for many years. Right now it’s all faith. That is a huge sacrifice for God and he knows it. A person doesn’t make that big of a sacrifice unless they really love the other person. God is greatly pleased to see how much we love him through this sacrifice.

The peace of the Lord be with you,
Jared

Video Game Thoughts: The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask was a 2000 action-adventure game by Nintendo for the Nintendo 64 (N64). When this game came out, I was a big follower of Gamespot, a video game news site. I checked the website daily for news and reviews about all the recent games. When Majora’s Mask came out, they gave it a pretty low score compared to the previous Zelda game, Ocarina of Time. The previous came scored a perfect ten, but Majora’s Mask only got 8.3 out of 10. Back then, Gamespot was my one source. When they said the game was good but not amazing, I decided to skip it. As a kid my allowance was only enough for a few games a year. I only wanted to play the best of the best. I am blessed that these games are still available these days and for very low prices. Because of that, I was able to play it today on the Wii U’s Virtual Console.

Unlike Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask did not have the typical Zelda story. In fact, the character of Zelda only appeared in one very short cutscene towards the beginning of the game. This game wasn’t really about Zelda at all. It was technically a sequel to Ocarina of Time, starring the same hero (Link) in a new adventure. Link somehow ended up in another dimension or alternate reality. He was now in the world of Termina instead of Hyrule.

The premise of the story was that Link was searching for his old friend, Navi the fairy, from his first adventure when he ran into Skull Kid. After Skull Kid stole Link’s Ocarina of Time item, he ran after him and fell into a deep hole, eventually ending up in Termina. Link got his Ocarina of Time back but then found new problem. The Skull Kid had got his hands on Majora’s Mask, a source of great evil in Termina. With its power, the Skull Kid was somehow magically pulling the moon down to one day crash into Termina. If Link didn’t help, Termina and all its inhabitants would be destroyed. Link could have just gone back to Hyrule, but being the hero he was, he couldn’t stand by idly or run away. He accepted the mantle of hero once again.

Death was a big theme in Majora’s Mask, so it tended to be much darker than most other Zelda games. Link encountered all manner of ghosts and people dying. In one poignant scene, Link witnessed a person die right in front of him and was tasked with burying him. Also, the entire world was going to die if Link didn’t help. Sadness was another big theme. Most of the people Link encountered were very sad about something. Someone had left them or hurt them in some way. This gave Link’s actions more impact. I could just feel the joy after helping solve a character’s problems. Sadness was also the main motivation behind the villain’s actions.

Ocarina of Time was much more epic than Majora’s Mask, but what this game lacked in epicness it gained in personality. The characters in this game just had a lot more to say. Most of them had quests Link could complete. This was important because there were only 4 dungeons. That meant Link only got 4 additional heart containers (health) from playing the story. The remaining heart containers required Link to collect a very large 52 heart pieces, one of the largest numbers in series history. Most of the characters had big problems, so the heart piece reward was just the icing on the cake. The joy of making someone happy was more than enough reward.

On the technical side of things, Majora’s Mask borrowed quite a bit from Ocarina of Time. With only a year of development, there was no time to create lots of new graphics. Almost all of the characters were just reused graphics from Ocarina of Time. This was okay because it reinforced the alternate reality theme. There were several new textures in this game though, and they were usually better than those in Ocarina of Time. Sometimes it was a little jarring seeing the older, lower quality textures next to the newer, more detailed textures, but most scenes looked pretty good. The sound effects were almost exactly the same as the previous game, but most of the music was new. Most of the music was subdued in the background, but a few tracks were really interesting. Because so much of the look and feel of the game was the same, Majora’s Mask felt like an expansion pack more than a sequel. It was more of the same for those that enjoyed Ocarina of Time. I think that was the intent because Majora’s Mask was a much harder game. Nintendo assumed the player already had practice from the first game, so they could make this one more difficult.

It was always pretty clear what Link had to do next to advance the story, but sometimes the details of how to accomplish that goal could be hard to figure out. Usually, it required a lot of trial error. For example, in the snowy part of the game, a critical character was hidden in a large snowball, but there were several of these in the game. I had destroyed a few of them and found them to just have extra supplies I didn’t need. When I couldn’t find the critical character I didn’t even think to try breaking all the snowballs. The game taught me not to do that by showing all the snowballs earlier to just have extra supplies and not characters to talk to. I don’t like trial and error stuff like this. I never like just wandering around randomly trying stuff until I figure out what to do. Fortunately, this only happened a few times in the game.

Another difficult part of the game were the dungeon puzzles. I found the first dungeon to be a cinch, but the last three definitely took some time to figure out. They really took advantage of the third dimension, so much that the two dimensional maps were just not good enough to really understand how various rooms connected together. Link couldn’t fly around to inspect a large room from all angles, so I had to make decisions based on incomplete information. In other words, later dungeons required more trial and error. In this case, I liked it because the dungeons in Ocarina of Time were usually too easy. Majora’s Mask had the right amount of difficulty. The sidequests were a different story though.

To really complete every sidequest was a daunting task without a guide. There were just so many sidequests in obscure places or activated in obscure ways it would take significant trial and error to find them all, let alone finish them all. I went through the whole story and beat the game without a guide. I then used the full set of equipment to go back through all the areas, searching for secrets and sidequests. I ended up being able to do about 80% of the game this way. For the remaining 20%, I used a guide. Because I don’t play games as much as in the past, I am okay using a guide to finish the last few things. I figure it’s not much different than the guidance I got from friends when I played N64 games as a kid. I never finished a game all on my own. We always played games collectively, finding new things and reporting them to the group.

Because I didn’t play Majora’s Mask until recently, it didn’t have the huge impact that Ocarina of Time did. I think it did several things better than Ocarina of Time, but the dated graphics and old technology prevented me from really loving this game. When I look at it objectively, Majora’s Mask was better than Ocarina of Time in almost every way. The only big exception was the story. Some people just didn’t like the darker themes in Majora’s Mask. I normally don’t like dark games, but the old graphics prevented the game from really absorbing it, so I wasn’t affected by it. For the low price I paid, Majora’s Mask was more than worth it. I will always have more fond memories of Ocarina of Time, but now I have a few to add from Majora’s Mask.